Here’s a sordid little item that’ll put the “hump” into your Humpday. Colby College in Waterville, Maine has accepted the resignation of popular economics professor Philip H. Brown. In an announcement all-too characteristic of the kind of moral leadership and courage displayed by all-too many college presidents, Colby’s William “Bro” Adams “wrote to students and employees on January 28 that Brown had resigned after college officials had indicated they were prepared to fire him over ‘violations of student privacy.‘”
Just how, you might well ask, did the former professor “violate” the privacy of his students? It’s not like he demanded the registrar share FERPA-protected confidential information about the students’ personal lives. Or like he walked into the women’s locker room to catch a glimpse of a group shower. It’s more like…wait a minute…it’s virtually like he walked into the locker room.
Back in January, on a trip to China—part of his aptly named course “Made in China”—Brown placed a web cam in the bathrooms of the lodgings his female students were assigned. Better yet, he had enlisted an unwitting student to do the installation by insisting the “first aid kit” be stationed in the bathroom wherever the students bedded down.
Soon his students’ clothing-optional bottoms became the kind of targets of opportunity budding commies turned capitalists can only butt dream of. The professor, in his defense, was merely engaging in a harmless bit of multiculturalism, celebrating as he apparently was the Chinese Moon Festival, in which lovers spend “a romantic night together….Even for a couple who can’t be together, they can still enjoy the night by watching the moon at the same time so it seems that they are together at that hour.” Or something like that.
The professor had his epidermal study of his students cut short when one of them discovered a picture of her unclad bottom in the trash bin of Brown’s laptop, a computer that all students on the trip shared with their teacher. Lest you think this student was snooping in places on the laptop where she should not have been, she was merely retrieving a copy of a blog entry she’d deleted by mistake. As any computer jockey knows, this happens. A lot. By the time the students were back in the States, many more revealing pix had been rooted from the trash and forwarded to the college, which brings us back to “Bro”’s courageous memorandum to faculty and staff. Appropriately, this tale ends with ex-Professor Brown out on his keister.
But although the story is over, there are still lessons to be learned. First: if you are going to web-cam students in the buff, do not store the resulting images on the same computer you are loaning out to said students. Second, empty your trash and delete your history. These simple steps won’t prevent someone who knows his way around hard drives from figuring out what dirty little secrets you are hiding, but it will avoid the kind of surprise discoveries that send a co-ed into fits of anger and revenge when she realizes the Instamatic of her pert little bottom wasn’t good enough to make it into the permanent archive and was instead callously consigned to the rubbish bin.
The lessons do not stop there. If you click over to Rate My Professors and read the students’ reviews of Professor Brown, you will learn that numerous students rate him as “best I ever had,” a teacher capable of making the dry subject of economics come alive. If I still had the scales on my eyes about academia, I would read these reviews—and there are many, many of them—and weep at the tragedy of a deeply flawed man whose gifted teaching will now be wasted because of his dark compulsions. But those scales fell away a long time ago, so now I read those reviews and ask myself, not for the first time, when was it that society determined 18 to 20-year-olds were capable of sitting in judgment on the faculty in whose classrooms they sit.